The first children started experiencing nausea, headaches, stomach cramps, vomiting, fainting and fits at school at about 10:00, and there was a mad rush to get the sickest to hospital by ambulance.
It soon transpired that these symptoms were caused by the chewing gum.
About 200 children – all from Trevor Manuel and Alpha Primary Schools at Fisantekraal near Durbanville – were rushed to the nearest hospitals by ambulance. The rest were treated at a nearby clinic.
By Tuesday evening, most had been discharged.
Meant to be burned
The children had presumably picked up the chewing gum where it was dumped at a dam on the farm Patrysfontein, where it was supposed to have been burned.
The farm manager, Nick Alberts, said about 40 packets of Blitz energy chewing gum were to have been burned in the empty dam earlier this week, but these got wet in the rain and wouldn’t burn. The children then somehow managed to get hold of these packets.
Duncun Stevenson, who is renting the farm, said the chewing gum was locked in a shed along with other supplies.
He didn’t know how it was removed from the shed and police are investigating a case of theft.
Meanwhile curious and worried members of the Fisantekraal community gathered at the Trevor Manuel Primary School on Tuesday to see how seriously ill the children were. The community clinic is right next door.
Parent and community leader Leatitia Ntondini said the children sold the chewing gum to each other for about 50c per packet. “My child kept saying that she felt light-headed.”
Emergency Medical Services spokesperson Keri Davids confirmed that 174 children between the ages of 7 and 14 were treated in hospital.
The children were taken to the Tygerberg and Karl Bremer hospitals as well as to clinics in Kraaifontein, Delft and Elsies River.
One of the metro emergency services doctors treated 419 children in the Fisantekraal community clinic and sent them home.
Stevenson said members of the community informed the police on Tuesday morning that packets of the chewing gum were strewn all over in the veld.
Police burnt the rest of the chewing gum on Tuesday afternoon in the dam and are investigating.
Although there was confusion about whether the chewing gum had expired, Wilfred Solomons-Johannes of the City of Cape Town Disaster Risk Management Centre said there was no expiry date.
He added that the City’s health department would investigate the incident and samples have already been sent off for testing. – Die Burger